9 Powerful Reasons to Warm-Up for Rock Climbers – Quick summary

Warm-up for rock climbers – Introduction

The majority of climbers and athletes know the importance of a solid warm-up before hitting the rock or the gym wall. Coaches, physiotherapists, and doctors generally recommend doing warm-up, stretching, and cool-down exercises to prevent injury and enhance performance [1]. Numerous studies have shown that a proper warm-up is indeed an effective way of reducing injury risk [2][3][4].

But there is far more than meets the eye when it comes to getting yourself ready for a hard climbing training session. For the climbing warm-up routine to let us maximize the performance on the rock or at the climbing gym, it needs to be well structured, specific, and time-efficient. Ideally, the transition between the warm-up and the main session should be seamless. Preparatory exercises need to be designed to contribute directly to the main session’s activities and goals. But most importantly, you should treat the warm-up in itself as a critical training tool rather than solely a preparation before the actual training [5]. So, let’s go ahead and take a closer look at the essential aspects of an effective warm-up for rock climbers. 

Treat the warm-up in itself as a critical training tool rather than solely a preparation before the actual training.

Warm-up for rock climbers – Physiological effects

Warm up techniques are divided into two primary categories: passive and active. The goal of a passive warm up is to raise the muscle temperature (Tm) or core temperature (Tc) by external means, such as hot showers or baths, saunas, diathermy, and heating. Such an approach makes it possible to warm the body without depleting energy substrates, which are needed later during the main activity [6].

An active warm-up for rock climbers may involve jogging, jumping, push-ups, pull-ups, fist-clenching, and some light climbing, leading to more significant metabolic and cardiovascular changes than the passive warm-up. The warm-up’s primary effects can be divided into temperature related and non-temperature related, as shown in Table 1 [7][8]

Table 1: Physiological effects of a warm-up.

Temperature related
Decreased resistance of muscles and joints
Increased muscle and ligament flexibility
Enhanced blood flow to muscles
Speeding of metabolic reactions
Increased speed of nerve impulses (conduction rate)
Non-temperature related
Enhanced blood flow to muscles
Elevation of baseline oxygen consumption
Postactivation potentiation
Reduced DOMS
Let’s analyze these effects in more detail.

Temperature related effects of a warm-up for rock climbers

When talking about body temperature, we need to distinguish between the core temperature (Tc) and the temperature of the muscles and ligaments (Tm). The core itself is generally defined as the brain and the heart, and its temperature is kept stable at 37°C [9][10].

The muscles and ligaments in the arms and legs serve as radiators that remove excess heat from the core, and their temperature usually is 2 – 6°C below the core temperature [11][12][13][14]. Generally, the further the muscle and ligament tissues are from the central body, the cooler they are, so forearm muscles and fingers get cold very easily [15][14]

In Figure 1 below, the forearm muscle temperature measured at different depths from the skin’s surface is plotted [13][14]. Before taking the measurements, the forearm was immersed in a water bath of different temperatures for 30 minutes, and one reference measurement was done at room temperature in air. Water is a much better heat conductor than air, so the temperature at 2 cm below the skin at 26°C, measured for the forearm immersed in water is about 5°C lower than the temperature measured if the forearm is air-cooled. That means that if we are climbing outside, wearing only a t-shirt, taking long rests between burns, and it is below 20°C outside, the forearm muscles’ temperature may drop below 30°C, compromising performance.

Because of limited blood flow, it's best to warm-up your fingers externally with heat pads or by rubbing them together.

The easiest way to warm-up deep tissues such as muscles is by light active exercise, which increases the blood flow and moves the heat from the core to the further parts of the body [15][14]. But since blood flow in ligament tissues is much lower than in the muscles, it is better to heat knees, ankles, and finger joints externally [16]. Warming your cold fingers by rubbing them together can indeed help reduce injury risk, but it may also be a good idea to take a heat pack to the crag during the chilly fall and winter months. 

Blood flow in forearm muscles at varying temperature